Deborah Ross

Restaurants | 5 February 2005

The gun that's not so quick on the draw

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Off to the Gun, the Docklands gastropub. It’s a brisk walk from Surrey Quays station. Well, I say brisk but of course it is impossible to get anywhere briskly these days, what with the swarms of swarming immigrants swarming all over the streets and everything. They are everywhere. Everywhere! Indeed, just this morning I shook three out of my hair and if I’ve caught them, then you can almost guarantee the rest of the family have them too. So it’ll be off to Boots for that special stinky shampoo and then all that combing, combing, combing. Such a faff. I blame our son. Attending an inner-city multicultural school as he does, he’s always bringing them home. I also, by the way, found an entire family of asylum-seekers living in the kettle and 27 Kurds who’d set up camp behind the curtains. It is terrifying. Indeed, according to those think-tanks that project such things to put the fear of God into the congenitally thick, if Britain’s population continues to grow at its present rate the country will explode by tea-time tomorrow and then turn into a giant runny cheese which the French will come over and eat. You may scoff. You may say this is xenophobic scaremongering at its most pernicious. But, believe me, you won’t be feeling quite so clever when this business makes camembert of us all.

Anyway, to the Gun with two friends who would be nameless if, say, their parents had failed to call them anything at birth, perhaps having other things on their mind, but they didn’t, so they are Caroline and Mark. They are nice, decent people, the sort whose families go back generations in this country, which is what counts, after all. The Gun is down a little side street of surprisingly pretty old cottages and sited on the river with a view across to the Millennium Dome. I never understood what everybody had against the Dome. It was a lovely day out, or it would have been if only the Dome hadn’t been so laughably crap, appearing to have been put together by an utterly deranged geography teacher. I think that if Michael Howard is serious about annual quotas, he might wish to concentrate on white elephants. They’re not only a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, but even give the impression that we as a nation don’t know how to do things properly, and that, of course, is complete and utter nonsense.

The Gun is certainly a most fitting place in the circumstances. There has been a pub on the site for over 250 years and it’s said that Lady Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson used to rendezvous there, and we all love Lord Nelson, a man who had one eye and one leg and had to hop in a blur but still tried to give the French what for. They don’t make them like that anymore. The building is gorgeous, Grade II-listed, and inside the restoration has been wonderfully sympathetic. Hurrah, a gastropub without birch veneer and aluminium and silly twigs in pots. (Now, those places really deserve an annual quota.) Instead, it’s pale walls, two roaring fireplaces and, next to our table in the dining-room, a huge arch stuffed with logs. It makes us want to play Jenga, pulling out the bottom one, but of course we are too grown up for that. Also, I don’t want to exert myself because any movement might cause more immigrants to fall out of my hair and that would be embarrassing. Bloody itchy, though.

We are brought the menus, and some lovely breads. There’s a ‘Daily Specials’ board on the wall with nothing chalked on it. ‘No specials?’ I ask the waitress. ‘No,’ she replies, with no further explanation. Okey-dokey. The menu is very un-ladies-who-lunch, it being almost wholly meaty, with mains of steak or sausages or lamb rump or ham hocks, the only alternatives being fish pie or a cheese and onion tart. I’d fancied, for some reason, something light, a nice bit of fresh fish maybe, but there you go. We order. And wait. And wait. And wait. We sat down at 1.15 p.m. I know because I’d looked at my watch. Half an hour goes by. Then 45 minutes. We keep making faces at our waitress. She keeps making apologetic faces back but does not volunteer any information. I confront her in that peculiarly British way: ‘Um ...look ...awfully sorry ...we don’t have much time and know ...awfully sorry ...been waiting quite a while....’ She says, ‘It’s because we are busy.’ But the place isn’t that busy. I can see three empty tables as it is. And diners who came in way after us are being served. Perhaps the staff have simply taken against us. Perhaps they’ve spotted what I’ve got in my hair — it’s so hard not to scratch — and don’t want to get too close.

But then, after an hour has passed, our starters finally arrive. Trouble is, they’ve got the order wrong, so it has to go back into the kitchen, by which time I’m tempted to jack it all in and go for a sandwich, as are Caroline and Mark, who were named as such by their parents. Ah, here come the starters again. Hallelujah! Lord be praised! I’m having the Perigord truffle omelette (£10) — how long does it take to make an omelette, for Christ’s sake? — and although they’ve been a bit mean with the truffle, so you have to really concentrate to pick up the flavour, the omelette itself is gorgeous: soft and fluffy on the outside, slightly runny on the inside, just like the way I don’t make them at home, where they always seem to come out like leathery cloths. Mark and Caroline both have the potted duck with pear chutney and sage brioche (£6.50). They are complimentary. ‘Good and ducky,’ they say. ‘Good mouth feel,’ they add, showing off. Caroline complains, though, that she can’t keep the chutney on her brioche. It keeps plopping off. She seems to think this is somehow the fault of the dish. It doesn’t occur to her that it might be because she’s a clumsy old oaf. Only kidding, Caroline. You’re as light on your feet as Darcey Bussell, or would be if only you weren’t quite so alarmingly heavy on them.

Next? I have the saltmarsh lamb rump with spinach and Castelluccio lentils (£16.50). The lamb is excellent and cooked beautifully; pink, moist, tender. But it’s served under a dispiriting, dark brown gravy with the lentils — which possibly came here all the way from Castelluccio in search of a better life — swimming about in it. I eat the meat but leave the rest. Mark feels similarly about his Italian pure pork sausages with soft polenta and marjoram jus (£14). The sausages are tasty and meaty, but the gravy is just too jammy. Caroline’s cheddar and onion tart (£9) tastes of cheese on toast with Branston pickle but is none the worse for that, as who doesn’t like cheese on toast with Branston pickle?

Funnily enough, we don’t have time for desserts or coffee. We pay up pronto and leave. I sense we caught the Gun on a bad day, that the kitchen was stressed for some reason. Perhaps it’s simply more on the ball in the evenings. The pub itself is lovely, but it does need to sharpen up its act a bit. After all, we’re busy people with a lot of things to do before the world as we know it turns to cheese. And we’re stuffed.

The Gun, 27 Coldharbour, Docklands, London E1. Tel: 020 7515 5222.